Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cast in the Grass?

Rivers high, too windy to walk under tall trees, time to experiment with grass casting.  Tools - a 12-1/2 switch rod, Scandi head, 12' leader and a bright pink tube fly.  As previously blogged, roll casts were attempted.  

Despite a nice big loop knot on the leader tip, the tube fly disappeared almost immediately.  How can you lose a bright pink wad of marabou in the yard?  I guess it will show up come spring.  The wet grass doesn't provide a lot of friction, so line needs to be draped behind the caster rather gently. Followed by a really mild, deliberate start to the forward stroke.  Think tip cast.

With just a touch of loading and a firm stop, it really goes!  Looks like an OK way to work on getting the rod-loading feel and perfecting the stop.  The photo cast is made off-shoulder simply to avoid tree branches on the right.  Both sides make for good practice.

When you go for a more dynamic D-Loop, be careful not to throw too much line behind you.  With just a little inertia on this slippery grass, the entire head wants to go into the D-Loop creating more of a "Belgian Cast" than spey cast. You want fly, leader and some head out in front of the caster.

Since water isn't holding the fly, leader and the usual sink tip down - as an anchor - a somewhat longer Scandi head was used.  If you've got it, fine.  If not, try your Skagit head and concentrate on the delicate "back cast" and initial load to keep some of it out in front of you.  A bit to the outside, of course, as you must always do with your roll or spey cast to prevent the mid-air collision.

With grass practice you can make major strides on getting that tight loop muscle memory going. This prepares you to more or less intuitively make a nice cast after having positioned the fly and created a good D-Loop, both of which are the subject of the future posts.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Let's Cast

Roll Cast to Learn Stroke

Let's get to work.  Step in - either side of the river.  You've got your rod, an appropriate Skagit head, no more than 10' of sink tip, tippet and fly.  If you begin with a fairly light tip and an unweighted fly this phase will go more smoothly.  Wade to at least mid-calf depth, where there's current you can feel.  Not much current?  Wade deeper.  Standing in a back-eddy, by the way, will make this practice a waste of time.  Real current, but try not to be in more than knee deep.

Roll Casting from the dangle back to the dangle.  Downstream, not across.

Shake out about two thirds of your Skagit head and let it dangle, while keeping the rest tight on the reel.  With fortune, there is just enough current to keep your fly unhooked from river rock while you get ready.  Deliberately raise the rod tip until it and you are in the casting position (rod around 10-20 degrees beyond vertical) and note the location of your fly.  Is it in front of you?  If so, when you cast, the fly will hit the Skagit head.  But if you simply rotate your waist until the fly is no longer in front of you and is also outside the direction of your cast, you're ready to go.  

You're ready to make a roll cast.  Do it.  Begin the stroke gently, accelerating to a stop.  Make several more.  Work on shortening stroke, first by stopping higher (earlier) later working on beginning the cast from a higher position.  If you are accelerating and stopping nicely you'll notice the loops tightening as the stroke gets shorter.  When the loop is getting real tight, let out some of your Skagit head and keep casting.  When the entire head is outside the tip top (but not by much) and you're flinging tight loops, pat yourself on the back.

But you're not done yet.  Make a roll cast downstream, but angled towards the opposite side of your body. Now the fly is on the dangle, but so far to the wrong side it would be almost impossible to rotate at the waist enough to get things safely lined up.  Time to try the off-shoulder cast.  Without changing your grips on the rod, raise it to the casting position on the opposite shoulder.  (Note that the position of the fly is safely outside the ensuing path of rod tip and Skagit head.) How does this feel?  Unnatural?  

It's a restricted feeling, with very little freedom of movement for either hand.  This works out to be an advantage, almost forcing better casting on your off-shoulder.  With about 2/3 of your Skagit head outside the tip top, make some roll casts.  Again, many repetitions shortening both the forward and back strokes.  Don't stop until loops are routinely tight.  Over several more casts, work the rest of that head out the guides.

From Static to Dynamic

Begin your roll cast a little more vigorously.  Lift the line, swing it to your casting position and make that forward cast while the loop behind you is still growing.  Get a feel for this dynamic roll cast, as it is the spey cast without direction change.

Lift deliberately, swing your rod up/back into the casting position, stop.  With excessive energy, the whole shebang will land somewhere behind you.  Try again.  You want the fly about a rod length downstream and a bit outside the path rod and head will take.  Make this cast repeatedly on both sides until you get a real feel for the delicate process of lifting and flicking or tossing a loop behind you, with the fly stopping in the magic spot.  Don't forget how you got those static roll cast loops tight and keep focus on compact stroke - smooth acceleration, high stop.

Tip of the Day

Minimize the movement of your hands and arms.  Inside of and not much above shoulders.  Make the rod tip do the moving, not your hands.  Why?  Easier replication leads to fewer errors.
Here's the shape (though not the direction) of your dynamic roll cast loop. Hands too high?

 A Reader's Challenge

Is there any way to make spey casting progress, particularly to learn the stroke, on still water?  Or in the yard?  OK, let's try it.  Follow this post in still water.  It may take several mini roll casts and flicks to get your gear in the starting spot, but you can do it.  When you make a good roll cast, your fly will be placed perfectly for the next one.  With great progress on your roll casts, still water is also a good medium for shooting some line.  Want to try it?  Then strip back to the head and make another roll cast.

On the grass, you might try a fairly heavy tip and fly with no hook.  Make a small D Loop to keep the fly/tip on the grass with tip casting.  Start your cast slowly, deliberately.  Cezanne tried this and says it can work.  If you make real progress on your spey casting stroke you will have a leg up when you later go to put it all together... on the river.

Monday, February 3, 2014

DIY Time

Can't Get to the O.P.?

The gods of urban economics conspire to keep you closer to home. If only there was a way to make some significant spey casting progress in spare time closer to home. There probably is, but only if you are willing to focus on chewable bites. You'll need to break down the cast into learnable components and concentrate on them one at a time.  Simply standing in the river making spey cast repetitions is a painfully slow method.

As you've probably already experienced, grass and still water are unsuitable spey learning environs. Many roll casts are required to position the line and fly for each practice move.  That gets old. Plus, river current creates downstream drag on your rigging which you'll need to feel for development of the required muscle memory.  So, go find the nearest river. 

Combined Sequenced Moves

Let's begin by placing the fly in that sweet spot approximately a rod length up or down stream and maybe a half rod length towards mid stream.  If the fly is slid or flopped or shot to the perfect spot, it will never hit you on the cast.  It will never hit you.  

You've learned to be constantly aware of the location, speed and depth of your fly in trout fishing. Full time intimacy with the fly is equally important when it's being swung for steelhead or salmon. And no time is total awareness of the fly more important than when setting up and delivering the spey cast.  If you can see it, watch the fly while you strip - if not, focus on the water where it should be located.  You may get a follow.  When the head has been brought up to the tip top, keep your eye on the fly.  When you inadvertently place the fly in the wrong spot, stop everything.  Roll cast back downstream and restart.  Watch that fly.

With the fly in place, the next move is to sweep your rod parallel to the water, then at about 45 degrees to the bank angle the rod up towards its stopping point - somewhat off your shoulder and 10-20 degrees behind you - a position from which you're ready to cast.  This second move has formed a D-Loop with the fly line head.  The D-Loop will never stop moving, once formed.  Thus, in spey casting, timing is tricky.

Finally, the casting stroke.  Load gradually.  Gently accelerating.  Stop high.  Let her rip.  Shorter strokes produce tighter loops.

Here at Sol Duc Spey we teach the moves out of sequence. We like to begin with the casting stroke, so that you have lots of feel and muscle memory in place to minimize the muscle/brain confusion which the first two moves can generate.

Casting Stroke

Next post will describe a methodology for developing a strong casting stroke foundation - off both shoulders.  

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stand Your Ground

Wrong Cliche - How about Stand Your River Bottom?

Time of year for cold water producing cold, numb feet.  When water is off color, eyes aren't that helpful in navigating your course down the drift.  Unlike low-water summer-run fishing, a winter dip can ruin your day.  

This post is about feet.  When fly fishing, wading deserves your highest priority.  Moving down the drift, it's foot braille over and around rocks as your hands are busy fishing.  If you've been making progress with your spey casting, you're adding distance which can substitute for deeper wading. Experiment with the efficiency of making your downstream steps while stripping your shooting line. Whether multi-tasking or not, you'll need to cast just as soon as the head is near the tip top - to avoid the dreaded rock hookup.  Usually there is less than sufficient time available for foot shuffling needed to achieve the ideal athletic stance.  

Ideal Stance

Written spey instruction suggests foot placement.  Which probably made sense back in the days of heavy, 14' rods. No longer, however.  Practice casting with your feet wherever they end up at the conclusion of the shooting line strip.  Why?  Because you can.  Sure, it's more comfortable to square the body to the direction of the cast, but that's a luxury.  

In casting 1990s rods it was helpful to throw a little body english into the cast.  You can find suggestions along those lines in all the spey casting "how-to" classics.  In those days you also heard about fatigue and spey anglers with sore backs.  Regardless of your physical size, modern spey fishing can and should be done with the arms.  While casting your light, fast rod and Skagit head, hold the waist and shoulders still.  In fact, for your switch rod fishing, try wrists alone (an unintended consequence, btw is shorter stroke and tighter loops).  Really feels good.

Secure Wading

With a still body, the footing is much more secure.  You avoid the risk of throwing your balance off with a violent body move.  The colder, more blustery the day the greater temptation to use the body hoping to get more oomph into the next cast.


The body is facing almost directly downstream and it's time to cast.  And you coax your arms into a motion producing the desired 45 degrees down-and-across trajectory.  All goes well, except that the path of the bottom leg heads downstream of the target and lands first - putting drag on your fly. Why?  Because keeping the rod path straight is challenging and a bit un-natural when the body isn't fairly square to the target.  Practice keeping both hands and the rod tip moving directly in line with your target.  With a body english-free cast, arm muscle memory is all you need to master for straight rod tip tracking.

Tracking is a particular challenge to learning off-shoulder casting, as your top hand is attached to an arm extending across your body to shoulder on your non-casting side.  A mouthful attempt to say that you may tend to pull the top hand towards the center of the body during the casting stroke when casting off-shoulder.  

With any of your spey casts, when things start going poorly, consider tracking error as a potential culprit.  Visualize the path of the rod tip as you plan your next attempt.  It must be straight - unless you're trying to throw a curve.

The Message

Wading is your top priority.  Use your feet, assisted by the rest of your body.  Cast with your arms.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tip Cast

Got To Love Tight Loops

Wintertime upstream puffs just delight in turning your spey cast back.  Heavy fly, sink tip and head - all cast with vigor - ought to carry, right?  But there's just enough windage in all that flying gear that the heavy, chilled-air blast dismantles the cast, either killing it completely or blowing it well upstream.  It seems uber-inefficient to make an 80 foot cast that needs a 40 foot mend to convert the sweeping on-water upstream curve into a productive swing?  Worse yet is the invisible wall, the 60' pile cast.  You have experienced that one.  Unredeemable.

And, there's more to it than defeating upstream puffs.  It's turnover and delivery. The bottom leg of a tight loop is parallel to the water - not sagging.  With decent line speed, that bottom leg will remain airborne until it settles about the same time as everything straightens, dropping fly and tip to the river.  Properly executed, everything is lined up, fishing immediately and requiring little or no mend.

Note Bottom Leg of Loop

Enter the Tip Cast

The wider the arc of the casting stroke, the more the bottom leg is pulled down opening the loop.  The ultimate in short stroke is the tip cast.  Bear in mind, too that this is the most energy efficient technique.  Ideal for making your long spey fishing day comfortable.  

Get your Skagit head outside the tip top.  Start with a mono leader or light sink tip, this will be easier than heavy tip, along with a light fly.  Position the fly as appropriate, either upstream or down, and make a small D-Loop.  Then, visualize making a one-handed three weight dry fly trout presentation.  The rod tip path will be straight over the top - vertical casting plane.  A slow, short loading motion followed by crisp stop.  The shortest possible casting stroke to lift your gear off the water.  No force.  Tiny load and stop, all basically in the same plane.  Don't ignore the bottom hand.  It stops the rod.  

Did it work?  An unimaginably tight loop?  With a one-hander, you'd be worried about the fly crashing into rod tip or wind-knotting itself with a loop this tight.  But, not with the two hander.  Since the fly begins its trajectory outside the casting plane, either upstream or downstream, it won't tend to crash.  Rather, it will run along beside the head until straightening.  Make several of these tip casts.  Don't start shooting line until you really feel the D-Loop and stroke producing an extremely tight loop.

But, When I Lose It?

Right, you'll increase casting distance until line speed and the tight loop have completely deserted you.  Reel her up till the head is just outside the tip top and start over.  Reacquire that feel before returning to shooting lots of line.  When you've got it, the head zings straight out - high.  At full extension the running line goes "whack!" on the rod blank.  Then, you'll know you've got it.  

It's Way Up There

Those early tip casts, while parallel with the river, are high.  That's because you haven't bent the rod much and the rod tip is 12' above the water.  You haven't needed to bend it much.  Try tilting the entire cast forward, casting a bit towards the water as Cezanne has done in the photo above.  You may also ask, "can I bend the rod more, bringing the cast down closer to the river, and still cast an ultra-tight loop"?  Sure you can cast a tight loop with a long stroke.  But it may require more practice time than you can invest.  Back in our FFF certified instructor days we learned that tight loops result from the rod tip maintaining a constant height throughout the stroke.  If that's true, experiment with loading the rod through smooth acceleration (unrelenting increase in speed) all the way to the stop.  In that manner I use a long stroke (usually with hands way down at waist height) to throw max line speed and the tightest loop less than two feet off the water surface.  That cast will defeat a 20kt upstream blow, but needs lots of reps to fully develop.  And it looks radical.  Six gun.  We teach it.


Stroke Too Long, But Nice Vertical Plane
  • Small D-Loop
  • Stroke in vertical plane
  • Brief acceleration to immediate stop
  • Very short stroke.  Not hard. 
  • This isn't chopping wood.
  • Stop high

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

X Marks the Spot

We've watched hundreds of people in casting clincs. Often, they are told to watch their backcast. Few do. The best that most people achieve is a glassy eyed look skyward. Why watch your back cast? Tracking, line straightening, drift (good), creep (bad), loop shape, crisp stop, aim too high, too low, just right...  But it is unnatural, better to let what happens back there be a bit of a mystery, part of the voodoo of how this whole casting works anyway. Uh Oh, I suppose now you want me to watch my D-Loop. I'll fall over. It isn't pretty. No way, who knows where that fly will come from and when, best to keep looking forward protected by my rain jacket cum casting helmet.

No, really... this isn't about watching the D-Loop - that would be nice, but try this instead.
"X" marks the spot. There is a perfect place for your fly to land after each initial or positioning move. The move that precedes the D-Loop: the lift on the single spey, the snap in the Snap T, the first move of the double spey... Pull the fly off the dangle to either below you or above you depending on which side you plan to set your D-Loop. This sweet spot, or the "X" is where you want the fly to land, or at least land and drift to, before making the D-Loop and firing off the forward cast. Hit the spot and you are golden. Miss the "X" and you'll either need to compensate big time, or duck.

There are lots of cool ways to experiment with Spey casting. More top hand, more bottom hand, size and shape of D-Loop, timing of power application, to cant or not to cant, aerial mend (really?!?) when to stop, add a bit of drift, or really knock the crap outta it.  With so many variables to play with, why mess with one of the things that doesn't merit messing? The "X". Put it in the same sweet spot every time and you'll be rewarded, if not you'll be pummeled. 

OK, so where is the "X"?  Start with a rod length above or below (on the "D" side) and about a half rod length midstream of yourself.  How you get the fly there will
 vary a bit with each setup, even if you change heads, tips or add a bit of tippet, it will take more or less effort. (Why are we telling you this? Come take a lesson... oops, pardon the commercial interruption). Then, when you make the D-Loop, the fly shouldn't move much.  If you are really nailing it, the fly won't move at all, merely flip over and launch from D-Loop to forward cast. Serious. 

Double Spey

How do you know where the fly lands? Excellent question grasshopper. You watch it. Every single time. Shouldn't be hard. It's right there, just a little off to the side, in front of you. 

Snap T

What to do if you miss? There are several options. One is just go ahead and cast - then make the correlation between where the fly was and where it hit you. There will be a few "aha" so that's why that happened. And hopefully some learning (remember the old Cheers episode where they had a box with two buttons, one delivered a shock and the other produced a nut...). Once you have satisfied your curiosity, or if you are risk averse and have skipped ahead, if the location isn't right, you can punt. Send the fly back down to the dangle and try the set up move again. Or..... how about this. You can do a poke. A Perry Poke. Smart guy, that Perry. By doing a big flop forwards, towards midstream, you can usually move the fly back into approximately the sweet spot, with a messy but not harmful pile of line around it. Then just go ahead, make the D and shoot.

How did it go wrong? Fly too close to the bank? or too far midstream? It helps if the "X" is 180 degrees to the dangle. Maybe you didn't wait for the dangle, or perhaps the river bends and the dangle isn't directly below you. Too much oomph? Give it a few seconds for the fly to drift down into place, but if you are fishing sinking stuff, your fly might be too deep by then and you'll need to make adjustments on the D-Loop or final stroke. Too little oomph? Were the weighted fly and tip too deep? Lift the rod tip straight up to break line surface tension and raise weighted gear. Then start your move. Current speed can also affect placement. "It was in the right place..."  

So that's your homework. Next time you're on the river. Watch where your fly lands and like all those good pirate stories... "X" marks the spot.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Skagit Max Is A Girl's Best Friend

Steelheading Legacy

There was a time, not many years ago, when large men, encased in sausage-like neoprene waders, frequented northwest rivers in search of steelhead on the fly.  Fortunately for them, there were many wild fish in those days, as their methods were crude and inefficient.   Kind of a chicken/egg thing, they waded out to their bib-tops to get the target water in range, yet the deeper they waded, the shorter their casts became, as they were fighting gravity in trying to keep the one-hander back cast off the water or bank, particularly with a sink tip.  Being tall and heavy aided both wading and casting, but it was fighting a masochistic battle.

Two Handed Rods

Early two-handers added a lot of distance and reduced the emphasis on deep wading.  The rods were enormous and the lines were monstrosities.  For example, as recently as 2004 the head length (portion of the line held outside the rod tip when casting) of the Scientific Anglers XLT spey lines was over ninety feet.  Most of the rods were 14' or longer and tip heavy.  What this means is that a huge amount of very heavy fly line had to be tossed about, extending 40' or more behind the angler, to make a cast... albeit a damn long one.  Nothing subtle or stealthy about early spey fishing for steelhead.

Now, that's all changed.  Spey rods are no longer particularly unwieldy.  Fly lines with long heads have given way to Skagit heads.  They are short, really light and don't require strength to achieve distance.  They cast sink tips and weighted flies, winter fishing essentials, with surprising ease.  100 foot spey casts are routine for women - and with a little work can be yours.  You don't need to wade more than knee deep to fish Skagit heads, as your cast covers as much water as can be effectively fished.

The latest rods are light and much better balanced than those big early rods.  And the Skagit heads  (like Rio's new 23 foot Skagit Max) don't require the clunky reels the old Spey lines needed.  That's because the head is looped to a skinny shooting line which flies through the guides like a rocket, and doesn't require much reel capacity.  Currently, a twelve to thirteen foot 7wt is light and sensitive enough to make a six pounder exciting, but has the backbone to handle a Hoh River legend.

And get this, there's even a Switch Rod - a short two-hander with the power to cast tips and heavy flies, but light and sensitive to the touch.  Short enough to fit, rigged, in a Suburban and perfect for a drift boat.  Lighter than saltwater one-handers.  Even easier to play and land fish than the fourteen footers.  We have fished a couple of ten foot Meiser switch rods for several years.  And, this past summer we added a 7 weight Sage One switch rod.  The Meisers have been a dream for summer runs and all the way through December with reasonably low water.  And, the Sage One just may be a year-round tool, be sure we'll put 'er to the test this winter.

Steelheading Today

Why fly fish steelhead?  How about wild, scenic venue?  Eagles, otters, elk abound.  Snowy peaks. Clear water with traces of subtle hues.  Solitude.  Soothing.  Zen-like.  Your casts look and feel spectacular.   You begin to learn how to steer the fly.  You control it's landing, depth and speed through the swing.  Your first hookup:  Oops it's a Dolly Varden, but it's a five pound Dolly, and pretty cool.  And, of course, there really are steelhead.  The take is startling no matter how vigilant your focus.  Then the first run, the stuff of poetry: reel zings, silver splashes, rod bucks, instant jolt of joy and panic. Whether your first steelhead releases you or you release it, it will be quite a while before your heart quits racing.

Steelheading rives are among the worlds most pristine.  As summer turns to fall, the Grande Ronde is a great place to cut your teeth on steelhead.  Or the far-flung and exotic Skeena system with many, many summer-run fish in winter-run weather.  In Olympic Peninsula rivers, where steelheading can be a year-round sport, steelhead return with each rain.  The many Chinook and Coho take a swung fly, too.

Learn To Spey Fish

Cezanne has been teaching women and women's groups fly casting for over a decade.  As a member of the organizing committee of the first Ennis Fly Fishing Festival, she was volunteered to teach the casting.  Fly casting instruction was so much fun she became a certified casting instructor and taught women's groups at West Yellowstone, Idaho Falls, Bozeman and Livingston.  She guided for four years, trout on the Madison and Firehole, then steelhead on the Grande Ronde.  She'll teach you to Spey fish for steelhead.  Book her privately or book her with a friend.  You can usurp one of Cezanne's rod and reel setups if you'd like to learn the ropes before expensive gear commitment.  Give her a call about dates and fees.  (360) 640-3615.